“In life, as in chess, forethought wins.” — English philanthropist Charles Buxton
As if playing a game of chess, the organizers behind the Taste of Sonoma and the Sonoma County Wine Auction are making strategic moves.
This year the strategy involves separating the two events that have been bundled into one weekend for more than a decade.
The Taste of Sonoma will be at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center in Rohnert Park this Saturday, and the Sonoma County Wine Auction will be at La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard in Richard’s Grove in Windsor on Sept. 16.
“Ours is conscious decision-making, based on good information,” said Jean Arnold Sessions, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners. The trade group is collaborating with the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance to put on both the Taste of Sonoma and the auction.
What played into the decision to separate the events?
After hearing complaints from bidders over the years, the organizers sent a survey out to auctiongoers in the spring of 2016.
“The feedback we got about the auction was that Labor Day was difficult for families because it was a big family weekend,” Sessions said.
What’s more, research by the folks who worked on the events revealed that each drew in quite different audiences, she added. The Taste of Sonoma attracts a younger crowd, with ages ranging from 30 to 50, while the auction draws a slightly older crowd, roughly 45 to 65. Geography also comes into play when looking at the profiles of these populations. The Taste of Sonoma draws the majority of its audience from the San Francisco Bay Area, while the auction reels in people from across the country, with some international bidders in the mix.
The initial plan was to make the Taste of Sonoma a two-day affair, but in early August organizers canceled the second day, citing logistical difficulties. Now, Sessions said, the idea is to make the Taste an affordable way to really experience the diversity of Sonoma County in one day, while the goal of the auction is to make it more upscale with highbrow lots, and to wrap it into a two-day package.
The pricing reflects this shift. General admission for the Taste is $180 per person, while the fee for the auction package is $2,500. For the past nine years organizers charged $500 per person for the live auction, with add-ons available.
“It’s a noticeable jump, but we feel the quality of what we’re offering is worth it,” Sessions said.
The two-day package for the auction includes a preview auction lot party and vintner hosted dinners on Sept. 15, and the live auction and post-bidding al fresco dining on Sept. 16.
“We’re trying to recoup the cost of the auction so all bidding under the tent is for philanthropic fundraising,” Sessions explained.
The main beneficiary again this year is programs for children’s literacy. Last year’s auction raised $2.7 million for those programs. The auction also supports local charities, including ones that focus on health, the environment and the arts.
In addition to refashioning the Taste and the auction, organizers had to search for several new venues for this year’s events. MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg, which hosted the Taste of Sonoma for 12 years, and the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, which hosted the Starlight Dinner for five years, opted to make 2016 their last year.
Lots expected to have spiraling bids:
Fund-the-Future: Sonoma County vintner and winegrowers have made a multi-year commitment, beginning in 2013, to foster literacy for at-risk elementary school kids. Last year, individuals contributed $2.7 million.
LOT 11: a trip to the Kentucky Derby for two couples, a three-day and four-night stay with VIP access to many high-profile events. They will be guests of Barbara Banke, chairwoman of the board of Jackson Family Wines, at her Stonestreet Farm property.
LOT 14: A trip to the 44th Telluride Film Festival for two couples, a five-night stay at the mountain village with dinners, tastings and film excursions. The package also includes a two-night stay at the ranch house of Hamel Family Wines in Sonoma Valley, with a series of dinners and tastings as guests of Pam and George Hamel Jr.
LOT 19: Features a six-bottle collection of etched large format, five-liter bottles of Kosta Browne pinot noir.
LOT 23: Features four VIP tickets to Hello Dolly! and Dear Evan Hansen, two rooms at the NoMad Hotel and a winemaker dinner for four at the NoMad Restaurant with Williams Selyem proprietor John Dyson and director of winemaking Jeff Mangahas.
Preview all the live lots at www.sonomacountywineauction.com.
TASTE OF SONOMA
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2 (Gates open at 11 a.m. for Club Reserve ticket holders)
Where: Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park
Cost: $180 for general admission; $255 for Club Reserve (with Visa Signature: $150 general, $225 Club Reserve.) Additional passes must be purchased for Sommelier Talks, Sommelier Tours, the Blind Tasting Challenge, and K-J wine and food pairing.
Transportation: Shuttle buses will run from five locations around the county, including Sonoma, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park. Tickets range from $20 to $40.
Other activities: As part of the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, there are winemaker lunches and dinners on Friday, Sept. 1, and winemaker barbecues on Sunday, Sept. 3.
To reserve: sonomawinecountryweekend.com.
SONOMA COUNTY WINE AUCTION
When: Saturday, Sept. 16
Where: La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard in Richard’s Grove in Windsor
Cost: Tables start at $2,500